Sympathy, love expressed to family

The First Presidency and other General Authorities expressed sympathy and love to the family of Jeralee Underwood, an 11-year-old Primary girl who, on June 29, was kidnapped while collecting money for her newspaper route and murdered, it is believed, the next day.

Elder James E. Faust of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Joe J. Christensen of the Seventy delivered messages of condolence and hope during Jeralee's funeral on Saturday, July 10. Before delivering his own message, Elder Faust read a letter from the First Presidency to Jeralee's parents, Jeffrey D. and Joyce Underwood of the Pocatello 1st Ward, Pocatello Idaho Stake. That letter stated:"Our hearts reach out to you with sympathy and love over the tragic death of your beloved daughter, Jeralee.

"As parents we understand the sorrow that comes with the loss of a beloved child. However, we do not always understand why such tragedies occur. We can only turn for comfort and sustenance to God, our Eternal Father, and to His Son, our Redeemer.

"We add our prayers to those of yours and others that you will be sustained, and that in the providence of the Lord there will come into your hearts an unwavering conviction that although Jeralee has been taken from you, she remains yours and will be yours throughout all eternity. You have the undeniable assurance that you will again enjoy her companionship and love. We repeat the words of the Lord to His disciples: `Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. . . . Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.' (John 14:1, 27.)

"May you be comforted and strengthened as you pass through this terrible ordeal by the faith which you carry in your hearts as those who believe in the atoning power of the sacrifice of the Son of God."

In his remarks, Elder Faust said to Jeralee's parents and her five siblings, "All of us have come here to worship with you and mourn with you, to help you bind up your wounds, to assure you of life eternal and to bless you."

Elder Faust added: "It has not been my privilege to know Jeralee, but as I have observed the happenings in these 11 days [since her abductionT, I believe that in her short being she has literally changed the lives of others more than many do in a whole lifetime.

"What of the prayers, what of the fasting which has taken place? To what purpose, to what good? I think it is evident in this spirit which is here today, the spirit of love, the spirit of unity, like perhaps has not ever been known in this community before. And you, Jeff and Joyce, must know that you are privileged to be the parents of this special spirit.

"Now, you are not left comfortless. As we have heard, the Spirit of the Comforter will be with you and sustain you. And also, Jeralee will be closer than you realize. But the time has now come to move on with your lives. To pick up the handcarts, as it were, and head west, and close the doors and move on. Because of the life and being of this dear child, lives of literally thousands will be better."

Elder Faust referred to comments Brother and Sister Underwood made during a news conference the day before their daughter's funeral. At that conference, the parents referred to media reports that a lot of animosity was directed in the Pocatello area toward the accused murderer. Sister Underwood asked that the expressions of hate stop. "I've never known there could be this much love," she told the media. "I've learned a lot about love this week, but there's also hate."

The Associated Press reported that Brother and Sister Underwood urged citizens in southeastern Idaho to get rid of their hate. They talked about how their daughter always forgave people who had hurt her. "She would think of things she could do to go back and love that person," Sister Underwood said at the news conference.

Of Brother and Sister Underwoods' comments, Elder Faust said, "People could not believe your faith, your devotion, your commitment, your spiritual strength, your belief."

Elder Faust spoke of the promise of eternal life, and encouraged Jeralee's family to "create a comfort of peace."

Elder Christensen spoke of the Comforter - the Holy Ghost - that Christ promised to send His disciples. "There is no way individuals could face the challenges of this world without that blessing and do it with the dignity and courage you see before us." Elder Christensen added he sensed that the Underwood family had received the Comforter the Savior promised.

"This whole series of events in this terrible tragedy of losing someone so fine as Jeralee has caused in so many of us a stirring of emotion, deep sympathy and empathy. I think, with all of you, we've asked the question, `What if this were our daughter, granddaughter, our friend?' I think as a result of all these experiences, we've all learned a lot of lessons. I think that in addition to the strength that I've sensed from our limited association with the Underwoods we have learned a lot about power and the spirit that can come through a knowledge and understanding of those things which really matter most."

Further, Elder Christensen said: "We live in a world with a lot of problems. That's obvious . . . . We all face them. That's part of our time in life and mortality. But I'm so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ, for what He taught. He taught us that everyone of us here, regardless of our age, can know there is a spirit within us that gives us life, and that regardless of the condition of the body, the problems that come, the sickness, the ailing, the suffering, that that spirit is literally a child of our Heavenly Father. There is no question in my mind that the real Jeralee - that spirit that gave her body life - is very well. She is well. There is no question in my mind."

Elder Christensen spoke of the Savior's infinite love and all encompassing power, and added. "Jeralee's passing in this most unfortunate way has emphasized to me the importance of love. . . . Jeralee's passing has reemphasized to me the beauty and the power of that most central and most satisfying of all the doctrines of my faith and the faith of many of you here that that authority to seal upon earth and to bind on earth that which will be bound in heaven has been restored to the earth. . . . What a blessing it is to know that the love that exists between husbands and wives, parents and children was intended by the Lord to last forever, that families are sealed together. I don't know of any doctrine or any idea that could bring the Underwoods more satisfaction and comfort at this time than to know that."

During the funeral, Jeralee was remembered as a happy, outgoing child who cared about and tried to help others. Speaking in addition to the visiting General Authorities were the Underwoods' stake president, Kert W. Howard; their bishop, Douglas England; a long-time family friend, Charles Jensen, and one of Jeralee's aunts, Elise Browning.

Jeralee's cousins sang "I Am a Child of God." A children's chorus sang "I Will Follow God's Plan," "I'll Try to Be Like Jesus," and "Love One Another." A song that had special significance, "We Are Different," was sung by Roxanne Lindsay. The song's lyrics were interpreted into American Sign Language for the Deaf by three of Jeralee's Merrie Miss classmates - Jennifer Clark, Crystal Poole, and Jessica Rupp - and their teacher, Lynette Wilson. Jeralee had become interested in and had learned sign language; she taught the song to other Primary children. Prelude and postlude music, played by Barbara Jones, was from the Primary Children's Songbook.

Although the occasion was marked with deep sadness, a spirit of sweetness also was evident. Most floral arrangements included predominately pink flowers and other pastel blossoms, and those who spoke, sang and served as pall bearers wore on their jacket lapels and dresses delicate bows made of pink ribbon in honor of the little girl. - Gerry Avant

KTVX-TV, Channel 4, in Salt Lake City provided Church News access to the videotape of the funeral proceedings.

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